Marjan Moghaddam: Pioneering Humanity in a Digital Age

Glitched Goddess

Hailed as a “Trailblazer in Digital Art” by the Times Tribune and “The First Lady of Animated Painting” by The Examiner, Marjan Moghaddam is a pioneering and award-winning digital artist and animator who has been exhibiting her computer-generated art works in galleries, museums, and festivals since the 1980s. Most recently, her #arthacks on Instagram were shortlisted for the International Digital Sculpture price, and several of these hacks have gone viral on top art channels on social media with millions of views. Her Augmented Reality art has been exhibited at museums such as the Smithsonian. Audra Lambert talked with Marjan Moghaddam about the artist’s reflections on digital art and social media, her work, and upcoming projects.

Glitched Goddess

Audra Lambert: Can you tell us about your #Glitched Goddess series, and what about it you think speaks to our contemporary moment, leading to the work going viral?

Marjan Moghaddam: #GlitchGoddess was originally born out of my #Arthack project on Instagram, which I started in 2016. In my practice I use glitch as a digital aesthetic, technological phenomenon, and as a way in which the digital is transforming and changing the physical. So “she is glitching” is defying the existing concepts of the female shape in art, as she is animated between slender, heavy, young, old, pregnant, curvy, stylized and also abstract, as a contemporary and digital approach to the representation of the female form.

Her first hack appearance was in my Frieze London with Kavanaugh hack. I used her in my Art Basel Miami 2018 #arthack, with voices of artists like Joan Semel and Faith Ringgold from a documentary on inequality in the art world, and then it went viral with over 3 million views and 53k shares on my Public Facebook Page, and millions of other views on other art channels. Between documenting these physical exhibitions and my net art on social channels, I notice that most of the comments reflect an appreciation and connection with many of the ideas that I’m exploring aesthetically, socially, and politically which is very rewarding for me.

Sarah Lucas with Glitched Goddess
At Mary Boone in Glassish and Waxish

Audra Lambert: How did you decide to take your digital art practice and apply it to art hacks?

Marjan Moghaddam: My work was already totally CG and digital 3D since the 1980s, so initially I had the idea of exhibiting my work virtually as mixed reality back in 2016 on Instagram, as a way of redefining form for digital art & Net art, and also disrupting and democratizing the exhibition space while radicalizing curation. Or, as I always say, to hack is merely transgressive, but to do so with a critical discourse is transformational, and that was also what I hoped to achieve.

I deal with the internet and the digital as our collectively sourced imagination, so I take a stream of consciousness and aggregated approach to my work, creating and posting the art fair hacks as they are happening, blending in memes, current events, music and other data sets from the internet into my practice while also dealing with contemporary ideas of social and economic justice.

Right after the presidential election for instance I did a Shattering of America in my 2016 Art Basel hack. Other hacks involve critiques of economic injustice or the over financialization and commodification of art. Some also involve art historic interventions, like my hack of the Nude show at Gagosian in 2016, because that landmark survey of the Nude in art had no non-binary or digital nude, or my hack of the painting show at the Whitney with my Glitched Odalisque, which was a critique of the Odalisque as an Oriental, ‘permissive’ subject for the gaze of western men. All these #arthacks frame my #digitalbodies as animated Chronometric Sculpture in an original style that is a type of Imaginative Realism, which in my practice reflects how the digital is changing humanity.

When my “Baisser At Mary Boone in Glassish and Waxish” went viral with over 2.2 million views on this Instagram post and then my feminist Art Basel Miami 2018 hack went viral, that’s when I realized there is a global audience for serious, thought-provoking, conceptual, digital and disruptive art in our world. The internet has finally matured. Yes, kitten videos and college humor still dominate virality, but new fronts are opening artistically, culturally, and also intellectually.

Audra Lambert: Can you tell us more about the artwork you exhibited in DC in partnership with the Smithsonian & Halcyon Arts?

Marjan Moghaddam: Halcyon Arts Foundation had mounted a city wide arts festival in Washington DC in June of 2018, called #WeThePeople, a truly multicultural celebration of America and art. Artechouse the Digital Art Center created the first city wide Augmented Reality Art App for it. I was commissioned to create two AR art pieces, one I did as a chronometric sculpture of an individual’s birth and rise to pursue life liberty and happiness for the Smithsonian museum, with a counterpart at the National Cathedral which was our collective pursuit of the same. Both AR pieces were deeply meaningful for me to create as an immigrant from Iran, at a time when immigrants are coming under attack in the US and globally.

Autonomous animated AR Sculpture at The Smithsonian

Audra Lambert: Can you tell us more about your recent Sarah Lucas hack at the New Museum?

Marjan Moghaddam: NYC had 2 flagship museum shows by women artists, Sarah Lucas & Hilma Af Klint (whose painting appears briefly in the same hack). I set my hack of it to PJ Harvey and Bjork screaming out the Rolling Stones’ “No Satisfaction” as a reminder of how far women and especially rebellious and outsider women artists still have left to go, in comparison to their male counterparts. The hack has been shared on social media and even, strangely, on Linkedin which becomes very interesting in terms of how feminist net art can sometimes transcend so many boundaries fluidly, crossing into different digital ecosystems, another inherent tendency of the medium.

Audra Lambert: What challenges have you encountered as a woman working in the digital art and animation field? Can you shed perspective on barriers to achieving success compared to twenty years ago? 

Marjan Moghaddam: It has become harder for me now because I have to deal with ageism on top of the usual barriers such as being a woman, doing cutting edge and disruptive technology art, tackling provocative political and cultural issues, being an immigrant from Iran, and not being wealthy or having any proximity to wealth and privilege. I also think my rebellious nature is another strike against me, since that is usually celebrated in men but sadly not in women. But these barriers have also fed my art practice and forced me to forge my own path.

Audra Lambert: You’ve won numerous accolades for your work, including being nominated as a finalist last year for a major international prize. How do you continue to create innovative work, and what themes do you consider when embarking on a new art series? 

Marjan Moghaddam: I’m usually looking for artistic singularities, which itself is a mystery regardless of medium, so I go inside a lot, and keep myself as open as possible for the muses to strike. That keeps my work unpredictable, and I am constantly coming back because there’s so much more to discover and create. Also, part of me is always looking for the metaphysical or transcendent aspects of my dyadic collaboration with the machine in making art, the ghost in the machine if you may, which sometimes creates magical moments for me and also in my work. That above all else is what hooks me the most.

Audra Lambert: One thread connecting your work is your references to contemporary philosophy. What philosophers have had a strong impact on your practice?

Marjan Moghaddam: The list could be potentially very long, but a few that have inspired specific art projects over the years are Norbert Weiner, Deleuze and Guattari, Baudrillard, and even Foucault whose “art of the museum spaces” I have cited with my #arthacks as part of what I call art of the social media spaces. But currently I would say Peter Sloterdijk’s Bubbles trilogy has been the greatest influence, whether it be in the actual form and design of my Bubble Man from Scab (2009), or in the form and movement of my “Spharen Immunologicus,” in terms of the changing nature of humanity and our Identitarian reactions which are amplified through social networks.

Spharen Immunologicus

Audra Lambert: What’s up next for your work? Any new series or exhibits you are embarking on?

Marjan Moghaddam: I’m starting an Artist in Residency in Augmented Reality with Adobe Project Aero from April to June, which I’m very excited about and you will be able to see my works-in-progress on my public Facebook Page and on Instagram as stories. Right now I’m finishing up 4k animations for Noow Digital Art collection platform derived from some of my interventions, which will launch in May. I’m also getting more collector inquiries through DMs, so I am working on more sculptures from my hacks & AR, some of which are for Artjed gallery. My work is currently on view at 836M gallery in San Francisco as part of Re-Engineering Humanity curated by lady Ph0enix of till May, and I will be collaborating with Neural Nets and AI for an AI Art exhibition also at 836m gallery and art foundation this June. Other upcoming projects include another public AR Art installation with City Unseen, a commissioned AR intervention project with digital art zine Feltzine, and finally I’m creating collectable AR and animation projects for various crypto-currency art sites in addition to more #arthacks and other net art projects which will go on my social channels.

Glitched Goddess
Glitched Goddess
Audra Lambert is an arts writer and independent curator pursuing an M.A., Modern/Contemporary Art History at City College of New York – CUNY. Audra has curated interdisciplinary exhibits involving painting, performance, new media and installation art in New York City.

All photos courtesy of the artist.